Stimulus Details

Charles Platt is a guest blogger

Earlier today I wondered what the actual text is of H.R.1, the bill to authorize an $819 billion "stimulus package." Newspapers don't generally go into this kind of detail, perhaps fearing that it would bore their readers, so I visited the very usefulOpen Congress site to find out. As I read the bill, two things caught my eye.

The first should have been obvious: The money will be mostly distributed among existing federal agencies. To spend huge sums of money, the government simply has to channel it through the system that already exists to allocate and track it. Unfortunately, some of these agencies are not widely known for timely and efficient behavior.

The second lesson is a corollary of the first and could be described as "no agency left behind." Naturally when you suddenly have more than $800 billion floating around, everyone wants a piece of it. Thus we find that very substantial sums are being allocated for purposes such as assisting local law enforcement (the war on drugs, no doubt), housing soldiers, and (of course) increasing homeland security.

Here are some random items that I copied and pasted. For more details, check the link above.

Law Enforcement
$3 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance.
$1 billion for community policing services.

Department of Defense
$4.5 billion to modernize and repair Army barracks and other defense facilities.

General Services Administration
$6 billion for construction and repair of federal buildings.
$1 billion for immigration facilities at ports of entry.

Homeland Security
$250 million for salaries and construction at ports of entry.
$500 million for purchase and installation of explosive detection systems.
$150 million for alteration or removal of obstructive bridges.

The last item is amusing in a grim way. I thought this bill was largely intended to restore "crumbling infrastructure" but apparently $150 million will be spent partly on tearing it down.


  1. The housing market collapsed. While there are a lot of bankers out of business, there are also a lot of people in the electrical plumbing construction trades.

    Sounds like the plan is to put them to work. They certainly don’t need to spend money making houses to put them to work, so construction at “federal buildings”.

    Before remodeling a house or a regional transit system, demolition is necessary.

  2. If there are rusting, disused bridges over rivers that are used for shipping, I can see how that could pose a major hazard. There’s a very good reason why naval bases must be accessible without passing under any bridges.

    I’m not sure how many of these there really are, but I do suppose that the idea might have *some* merit.

  3. Removing old rusting bridges that block access to docks and ports by large ships is clearly infrastructure improvement.

    Community policing, barracks repair, and repair of federal buildings are also things that will cost more if we don’t do them than if we do. And they all stimulate the economy.

    Infrastructure repair pays off well in the long run and employs people now.

  4. as part of the big stimulus package?

    Well, it takes workers to tear down a bridge, too, though, obviously, not as many. And I suppose it makes the waterway safer, too.

  5. Uhm, this is as basic as Keynesian economics get.

    Put money into the public sector to fix up the country, and they hire people in the private sector who do this.

  6. much, MUCH more on here, my fellow blogger ‘Paul’ has gone through the stimulus plan at length. I’m afraid it’s rather worse than that.


  7. It’s always good to have lean, responsive crowd control and security in place when the masses start gathering at corporation hq’s and banks yelling “Lynch em!”.

  8. I think it’s interesting to contract the two interpretations of this spending: that of, and that of Charles Platt.

    Paul Kroenke of organisedexploitation is obviously fighting the red, conservative, “libertarian” corner. Charles Platt seems to be approaching this from a more traditionally BoingBoing angle, that is with a concern for excessive security measures, invasive government, and, more than anything, wasting money.

    The concern for wasted funds is voiced by both Platt and Kroenke. But the difference is that Platt thinks that money is being wasted by being pumped into government and federal bodies, while Kroenke thinks it’s wasted by going to some of the same bodies (though he doesn’t mention them directly), but primarily by going to fund government projects, Medicaid, and non-profit organisations like ACORN.

    Kroenke’s main argument seems to be that any money that is not injected directly into the private sector will not aid the US economy, and is essentially wasted.

    Which is pretty nonsensical. Non-profit community development projects, free healthcare, and other non-private sectors like education, research into green technologies, etc, all aid the economy, albeit indirectly and with somewhat delayed returns.

    Any analysis of this spending needs to understand that economic success relies on people, not just private business.

  9. You don’t suppose any of those line items for modernizing, repairing, and construction of federal buildings has anything to do with Obama’s plan to make them more energy efficient?

    If you paste the entire line item you get:
    General Services
    “$6,000,000,000 shall be used for construction, repair, and alteration of Federal buildings for projects that will create the greatest impact on energy efficiency and conservation” (emphasis added)

    Dept. of Defense
    “$3,750,000,000, for the construction of hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers”
    and then another $360 million for child development centers split amongst the 3 branches (Army/Navy/Air Force).
    If you add up all the military construction (that I can see under Title X) you actually get: $5.7 billion (excluding the listing for BRAC).

    #2 is correct in that according to 33 USC 512, “No bridge shall at any time unreasonably obstruct the free navigation of any navigable waters of the United States.”

    So the $150 million for Homeland Security is there because:
    For an additional amount for ‘Alteration of Bridges’, $150,000,000, for alteration or removal of obstructive bridges, as authorized by section 6 of the Truman-Hobbs Act (33 U.S.C. 516): Provided, That the Coast Guard shall award these funds to those bridges that are ready to proceed to construction. (emphasis added)

    So what does this mean? They might be altering a bridge, or they may be removing an old bridge that now obstructs a waterway. That hardly sounds sinister to me, we do have old unused bridges around here, right?

    I think it is great people are digging into the text of the bill, but it just seems the way some of these lines were pulled out present the line items in a negative manner. We wanted money spent, spent quickly, and we got it. Federal agencies with plans on the books, channels to distribute funds to state and local Governments, and methods to funnel cash to other entities already in place. How did people think it was going to be used?

  10. That “stimulus package” must do some good because that amount of money surely will change the problem they have now:)

  11. My home town has 16 bridges in two and a half linear miles of border with another town. When they were built over 100 years ago it was necessary, but now they are just public hazards.

    It costs about $250,000 each to take them out, and if we take just eight of them out that’s $2,000,000.

  12. Shouldn’t a stimulus bill actually have the word “stimulus” in it? From what I can tell, this is just a very expensive supplemental appropriations bill that everyone collectively decided to call a stimulus package.

  13. Nations like the US and UK who have turbocharged their collective lifestyle on external debt financing are in trouble. Both nations would have likely ended up with civil war in even in the previous depression had it not been for an external enemy to focus on in the later stages. Also unlike the 30’s minorities are now willing to fully stand up and demand their human rights, multiculturalism with buried racism works in good times but just like Yugoslavia falls apart when everyone is competing to feed their families and the white, brown, Asian, Arab, foreign, Jewish, etc person makes a convenient target of frustration. Not sure what I think of a homeland security secret police to “protect” the leaders from the people. Will we get along? History almost always says no, but we can try.

    Every cent the bank cartel digi-prints from thin air to fund these stimulus programs will help short term as the did in the 2001 recession causing a 40% drop in the dollar but once the world decides the inflation is too high and divests or just fails to buy more new US$ bonds the hyperinflation and devaluation will quickly become apparent. Every attempt to hold off the reset will just make it that much more painful when the day comes that no ammount of effort will keep the artificial prices high and there will be a real crash.

    In the aftermath people will again be able to buy simple homes at realistic prices, local manufacturing and farming will have a chance, people will be able to start new businesses without a weight of ancient debt, and there will likely be a new balance of power in the world closer to what we saw before WW-II where the US is no longer unchallenged supreme. The dollar will have to compete as an equal against other currencies likely backed by commodities like fuel, gold, uranium, or verified industrial capacity to assure its trading and lending partners of a stable value currency.

    What is coming will not be fun, probably worse than the 1930’s not fun if the unemployment and welfare systems break, but after the winter there will be a spring.

  14. “After the winter there will be spring”.
    “After the war, what a glorious future awaits!” – Hitler and Goebbels said that, eh?
    Of course during the “winter” many will starve die and be “cleansed” from society.
    Bah. The Lancet reports that the “shock therapy” the West advised for Russia during the 90s resulted in markedly increased mortality. But no-one cares about that, huh, let’s do “shock therapy” at home too.
    Why not feed children first, instead of increasing the (taxpayer-funded) pay of the soldiers/cops/prison guards/usurers/snobby fraudsters?

  15. “The war on drugs, no doubt”? If you see someone being assaulted in your neighborhood, what do you ordinarily do, call your librarian? This is puerile axe-grinding. Here are, “at random”, some of the things that struck me about this bill: over one hundred billion in education funding. Half a billion for NASA, two and a half for the NSF. The odd protectionist “American steel” provision. It’s the first bill I’ve seen to mandate a web site specifically for the purpose of public accountability. As much money is allocated for the Smithsonian as for removing decaying bridges.

    It’s an interesting bill. This summary mischaracterizes it horribly.

  16. My guess is that they are proposing raising or removing bridges which obstruct access by today’s larger shipping vessels to upriver ports – for example the Tappan Zee Bridge spanning the Hudson River in above New York City was built in the 1950s and is too low to let current big ships travel further up the river to Newburgh or Albany.

    Increasing port activity does provide a measure of economic stimulus for areas around the port, and distributing work to other ports is cheaper and quicker than expanding the coastal ports. Plus it’s less expensive and attractive to businesses to distribute from or deliver goods to a local port than one 150 miles downriver. (It helps reduce trucking miles, traffic congestion, and particulate pollution too!)

  17. I already posted this on, but thought it would be relevant here, too:

    “If we’re going solely on previous experience (which seems a little naive and a little depressing, to be honest), then it may be that external forces – global shocks or opportunities – are what is needed to write this crisis.

    But before we rush headlong into repeating history by starting another massive arms race or military campaign, maybe we could see climate change (and the redressing of resource inequality) as that opportunity.

    We need to do something about climate change and peak oil NOW, so the timing would seem to be relatively fortuitous.This is an unprecedented opportunity for the US and the industrialised nations to create a green infrastructure. This spending doesn’t seem to do that, though.”

  18. finding the potential for silly waste in this bill doesn’t take much effort. what may have taken a little bit of effort was assembling the random items found posted here. they all kinda look like a knock on public safety $$’s. no doubt plenty of waste there, but there’s worse in the bill, the Senate better fix it up. watch it, the personality that would knock $$’s spent on public safety might also be the one to knock you or some little old ladies over to get out of a burning building. i’m just sayin’

  19. how much for establishing hemp farms and America become the chief provider of high quality fabric,paper, rope and fiber? To say nothing of cornering the world export market for recreational THC?

    Or is it better your children go hungry than admit an error and repair it? Those million or so prisoners of pot cost a hundred thousand each a year to torture, that’s free money.

  20. This posting and the links posted in a couple of the responses have been very helpful–thanks.

    There are two problems with all of this allocation that seem impossible to ignore, yet I’ve seen no media focus on them:

    1) No one can say No. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the phrase “with all this money, everyone wants a piece of it,” or some similar thing with regard to the allocation of funds. And of course everyone wants a piece of it. That’s not news. That’s just human. What is news is that those determining the disbursements seem unable to just say No. It genuinely appears as though anyone asking for “their piece” gets something. That’s just wrong.

    2) As Charles has finally pointed out (and thank you for this), “The money will be mostly distributed among existing federal agencies.” This means a goodly percentage of said funds will be absorbed into the infrastructure of those agencies as they “process” and “oversee” distribution, dragging it out for months while they soak up as much of the funding as they can. That’s how these agencies work, and everyone in government knows this. In some cases, it is perhaps justified; in this case, it is just wrong. This is emergency funding, not allocated funding, where those infrastructure expenses are a given.

    None of these funds should be used within government agencies or simply given (at whatever level) to anyone who asks for them. Is extra funding for local police really going to improve things economically for any of us (other than the local police)? Is tearing down bridges in Oklahoma going to make the economy right itself?

    The solution would not have been hard either: one point of distribution and decision-making. An oversight committee should have been formed to act as a single point of contact for all of this. Open reviews and public accountability via regular reports. Then final authorizations for release of funds could be sent through the Treasury Dept (just like the IRS does), making it as transparent as possible and using existing fund processing infrastructure rather than a hundred different agencies.

    That this hasn’t happened makes me seriously doubt any of these billions will really make a difference. The economy will slowly, gradually recover as a result of consumer spending (as it always does), even as none of us average consumers see any real benefit from the billions.

    Thank you, Charles, for highlighting some of this. Keep it up. The public seems scared of this issue, as though knowing how all of this allocation is working is somehow going to jinx it.

  21. Very simply, the concern I have with this economic “Wish List” we’re on the verge of implementing is that many of the items listed (not all, but more than a few) address what I would term “on-going needs”, not one-time stimulus expenditures. For example:

    Law Enforcement
    $3 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance.
    $1 billion for community policing services.

    Will we no longer need that aid once the Stimulus Package has run it’s course? Of course we we won’t so it will them become recurring costs in perpituity…

    Thanks Rahm, we wouldn’t want a serious crisis to go to waste, would we?

  22. Full disclosure: I work in the private sector managing several large contracts that will likely be used to obligate several million of the funds in this package.

    Some notes on the DOD expenditures from an insider’s perspective: Sustainment, restoration and modernization funds are nearly equal to or greater than MILCON funds. In an typical DOD budget MILCON is approximately 6-8 times SRM. SRM project are limited by law to $750K for new buildings and $3.5 MM for renovations, alterations and repair projects. MILCON projects range from $5MM to $300MM and take years to plan, design and execute. The typical SRM project can be planned, designed, executed and completed within 12 months of identified need. This means that the DOD construction funds are heavily targeted to fast projects that (typically) employ 10-50 construction workers for 6-12 months, not to mention the manufacturers and suppliers which, due to the Buy American Act, must be American companies by law. Finally, every DOD installation has contract vehicles in place which are structured to quickly obligate this type of funding. These are large indefinite quantity delivery contracts which are competitively awarded usually with strong competition (10-20 contractors competing for one contract). This type of funding can be moved quickly into the economy and specifically benefits the construction sector.

    Secondly, the MILCON funds (big projects) are designated entirely for three types of facilities: barracks, hospital/medical and child development centers. Having managed projects at many of the major Army posts, I can tell you one major problem the President is going to have pulling troops back from overseas is housing them here with the current infrastructure. There just aren’t enough beds, hence the barracks, which are about 50% of the MILCON funds, and the Afghan surge, which will provide a few years cushion while the barracks are built.

  23. What’s missing from all these erudite comments is where the money is coming from. The US government does, and can not create wealth. It can only take money from the private sector and re-allocate it. If you are in favor of socialism you may agree with this on principle, but that won’t help this package stimulate anything, especially as all of these entities (including the not for profits) aren’t known for being fiscally responsible.

    I actually agree with both sides that find fault where some of this money is going. It’s like a bunch of greedy pigs are rushing the trough for a free feed. In the panic of “saving the economy” things are being pushed through that have no place in the package (this panic could rightly be compared to the “war on terror” panic and everybody loves the sweeping changes made then, right? Go TSA!)

    Tax moratoriums make much more sense. State and Federal governmental agencies could do what the rest of us our doing and tighten their belts, instead of whining about how their budgets are being slashed (while still remaining higher than last years).

    As an aside, Gov. Patterson (of NY) recently made disparaging comments about “greedy Wall Street” types,

    “The same individuals who had bilked, hoodwinked and cajoled people who had less than them or knew less than them found out that there’s a flood rising,” the governor said. “It has overtaken Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, AIG – the list goes on and on. And now they’re asking for $700 billion that’s called a bailout. I remember when we used to call that welfare.”

    and then even more recently turned around and complained that NY would lose at least $1 billion in tax revenue in 2009 from plummeting Wall Street bonuses and proposed 88 more taxes to replae the lost revenues.

  24. “Is extra funding for local police really going to improve things economically for any of us (other than the local police)?”

    Of course it will. You can’t run a business where there is no law enforcement. Addressing quality of life issues improves economic well being.

  25. Our local cops are hurting for money because they’re funded by sales and property taxes, both of which are currently in the toilet. And as much as I might wish my local cops spent less time busting low level drug dealers, they also bust wanna-be gangbangers who have shootouts in front of daycare centers.

  26. Reduce gov demand in a recession, yeah. Cut off the Welfare queens, eh?
    Bobby that’s nuts, fuel on the fire.
    I say give welfare – or, if you will, forcibly redistribute income from the obscenely wealthy – to those who need food/fuel/shelter.
    What’s the problem?
    Had the top 5% of US wealth not hogged ALL of the increase of real income which came about due to the productivity gains from computers & automation in the USA over the past thirty years, there would be far fewer Americans now living on the streets and otherwise desperate.
    You guys need a whole new leadership CLASS – the same ol’ guys are the problem, not the solution.
    Redistribute, already: the jobs done by machines are now gone forever, yet the income generated/wealth (food/materials) produced is still the same: just very/too concentrated, now. Out of balance. Redistribute. You as a people are far richer than you know.

  27. Joke away, but as others have mentioned, sometimes removing infrastructure is actually very very helpful, and is very useful as an economic stimulus.

    Bridges and highways don’t last forever, and at some point they can just become dangerous eyesores, dragging down property values around them. They were constructed decades ago, along routes that were popular back then, and may have since fallen into disuse.

    Cutting them out is heavily front-loaded spending (unlike building a bridge, which you then have to maintain), so it makes sense as stimulus spending, and can really revitalize an area.

    Check out the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul, where they cut out an old elevated freeway:

  28. “You guys need a whole new leadership CLASS”

    That gets rather messy though. Can the sewers handle the increased load?

  29. The more money people in general have the less crime and thus the less need for cops, who seem to be paid more than teachers, right.
    There’s a big fat link between poverty and violent crime. But in the USA, it’s always the fault of the individual….never of inadequate income support.
    Fight poverty by redistributing income to the poor, not higher more trigger happy overpaid bored cops: we need less Law Enforcement , not more.
    Legalize marijuana and all drugs: the life you save, may be your own. Prohibition breeds violence, lack of income breeds desperation.
    Who wants to increase the American police State?

  30. To expand on my earlier post (currently #28), I’m reminded of the Clinotn-era “100,00 new cops on the beat” gift to city and state governments…

    Trivia question: Anyone remember why many cities and states didn’t take the “free” money from the feds?

    Answer: Because the funding went away, rather aggressively. IIRC, the funding was 100% the first year, then 75% the second, 50% the third, and 25% the fourth year. After the first year, cities and towns had to make up the difference – after 4 years, those union cops were on the beat, paying dues, and draining the local (not federal) budget…

    Next time, we’ll ask the question “Whatever happened to the ‘Midnight Basketball’ courts built under the Clinton administration, and we’ll consider how many items in the current spending bill are based on the same logic???

  31. Money travels. Even if you don’t like where it’s distributed first, it will enter the economy. If your only goal is “stimulus”, spend it all on strippers ‘n blow, and soon it will be going to child care and the manufacturers of gold-plated rims. This boosts the “economy”, and all Keynesians should be happy.

    Of course, Austrians will point out that there are relatively more and less productive uses for money, and that cheap money leads to malinvestment. ie. A dot-com that never actually ends up making a product, but burns the time of many talented engineers. The money they’re paid does go on to the rest of the economy, but doesn’t add any value as it moves. And adding value is the real meaning of economic growth. If the economy were simply the exchange of money, you could have two CEOs sit on opposite sides of a turntable, glue stacks of bills on it, and spin it at high RPM to generate economic “activity” from their “trade”.

    But who listens to Austrian economists, anyway?

  32. feeding the poor is a “less productive use”, on the Austrian model?
    Money is not only capital, it meets the most basic needs of the most foolish among us.
    The problem is overproduction. The problem is that machines do things better and cheaper, and concentrate the income produced into fewer hands.
    Also, I notice that the front-line cops and the back-line lawyers courts and prison guards are just a system of low-wage labor camps, economically speaking.
    Just what do all those cops “efficiently produce”, anyway?

  33. What about the $150 billion slotted for “education”. Time will only tell if children and student achievement benefit at all from the influx of cash. Certainly the teachers unions and school district bureaucracies will.

  34. What about the $150 billion (> $1 trillion) slotted for “education” (“defense”). Time will only tell if children and student achievement (citizens and “national security”) benefit at all from the influx of cash. Certainly the teachers unions and school district bureaucracies (military contractors and Pentagon bureaucracy) will.

  35. Usually I enjoy reading the comments on boingboing; it’s nice to see a group of witty, insightful people gathered together (if only virtually) to discuss a topic.

    But the some of the comments on this post… well, all I can say is that now I’ve actually registered a username here.

    I’m not about to claim that everything in the stimulus package is going to be perfectly efficient or effective. There may in fact be many incredibly stupid things in there. But if there are, I haven’t seen proof of that here.

    How can you claim to know how useful an investment is going to be from a description like “law enforcement” or “research” or “federal programs”? The point’s already been made with respect to bridges, we can think of a number of useful and productive ways that money could be spent. Which doesn’t mean it will be. But we haven’t seen proof yet that it won’t. I haven’t seen anything listed yet that couldn’t be a perfectly sensible step if it’s correctly implemented… research money results in technological advances by americans, which bring in money… federal programs, as has been described, may be a good established way of distributing money where it’s needed… they’re not necessarily going to be evil, inefficient, and money grubbing. If you’re going to raise concerns about this package, don’t just give the knee-jerk “the government is against us” party-line… provide the thoughtful analysis and justification that’s made me an avid BoingBoing reader. Consider both the potential benefits and possible pitfalls, try to do your research, and admit where there’s too little information to draw a conclusion. I want to read BoingBoing and *not* feel like I’m reading Fox.

    This website: will detail how the money is being spent, once the plan is passed. In the meantime, the most useful reaction might be to fill out a comment on and ask them to provide detailed rationales for all of the listed expenditures. It always makes me feel like I must be suffering from delusions of grandeur, but I swear I’ve never sent them a concern that they haven’t resolved within a couple weeks (of course, I doubt I’m the *only* person writing them when I do write… and they’ve made it clear that they think it’s in their best interests to keep us happy.)

  36. In my comment above, I meant the actual prisons are the labor camps, the cops/guards/lawyers are parasites. Yeah it’s the prisoners, not the guards, who productively labor in the prison fields/factories. And help to keep wages low, beyond the prison gates.
    It has oft happened in history that the productive labors of the slaves/serfs support the idle Legions’/soldiers’/bravos’ pay.
    Just do not expect the lot of the slaves to improve, if the Legions get more pay or increase their numbers. Even if the slaves “work harder”, or “get by on less”.

  37. Paul Kroenke of organisedexploitation is obviously fighting the red, conservative, “libertarian” corner.

    As a more ol’-fashioned red, I still find it quite weird to read a sentence that conflates “red” with “conservative.”

  38. If $800B will help, wouldn’t $1.6 trillion help twice as much? How about $3.2 trillion? I mean, why stop there – why not $8 trillion? $80 trillion? Seriously – even with $800B everyone agrees that we will still suffer, so why not juice it up more with ten times as much money?

    Think about this for a second.

    Then ask yourself where that $800B figure came from. I’ll give you a hint – it was pulled magically out of the air because it felt like a number people would support. Also, it’s similar but a bit larger than the $750B TARP bailout (which failed, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed). Where did they come up with the $750B for TARP? Again, it was used because it felt like a “significant” amount of money but not so much as to seem ridiculous. This is documented fact.

    Do you think they weighed the amount of inflation likely to be caused by $800B versus the amount likely to be caused by $8 trillion and factored that assessment into this decision? Don’t kid yourself.

    Neither of these numbers was arrived at by working backward from any desired outcome or any other economic calculus. They were invented by politicians. It is a measure of their skill and the overall corruption of the media that no one is noticing how ridiculous this whole exercise is.

  39. Hello, all. Paul Kroenke from Organized Exploitation here. I see a comment that I’m fighting a partisan, red, conservative battle with my analyses.

    I might suppose that you could take it that way, however my intention has been to look at the economics of the issue. The facts are we’re delving deep into a Keynesian economic practice that, if not disproven, stands on dubious ground at best indicates that the motives behind this package are far more political in nature than they are economic.

    The facts are that the percentages of money being spent that make their way to the private sector simply cannot possibly lead to a payback. Further, the language of the bill is flat out dishonest to anyone who would choose to read and understand it.

    If those interpretations of the facts make it seem like I’m biased toward one side or the other, it’s because I’m biased toward smaller government overall, not because I’m anti-Obama or pro-conservative. I’ve been against any of all this crazy spending we’ve been seeing since Bush’s stimulus refunds a year ago.

    You’ll find a lot of that reinforced in a newer summary than the one Zeph previously referenced you to, here:

  40. I’ve been against any of all this crazy spending we’ve been seeing since Bush’s stimulus refunds a year ago.

    wow. For a whole YEAR?

  41. Hi Paul,

    I did appreciate your analysis – it was clear and largely well thought-out, which is why I bothered to reference it in the first place. I’ll be the first to admit that you know a lot more about economics than I do. I wish I understood it better, but I don’t.

    I’ll take back the “red” comment (which was really just a play on the old “red and blue corners” in boxing), but stand by the fact that you are obviously approaching the topic from a (small “c”) conservative, libertarian standpoint. It’s not one that I share, but that’s fine.

    But one of the main points I took from your analysis is that any money that isn’t directed towards private business is wasted. I disagree, and I think it’s vital that investment(sustainable investment, mind) be made into redistributing power, access to resources, community development, education and alternative, low-impact fuel resources. Only the third and the last of these would be likely to involve private industry, and even that would need significant involvement from government and civil society.

    I agree, though, that expanding and increasing spending for government and federal bodies is likely unnecessary, though. Living in the UK, I know how bureaucracy and the civil service eats up money, without ever truly reforming or becoming more efficient. Obama would impress me more if some of this money was put towards drastically restructuring and reforming governmental and federal bodies and systems.

  42. My original post was deliberately very narrow in its concerns. I didn’t want to get into broader issues of ideology, because people’s minds are already made up on those issues, and in any case, it didn’t seem appropriate for BoingBoing. As a guest blogger, I try to respect my environment.

    However personally I have to note that government, in this nation at least, does not generally create jobs that enhance our lives. The food I eat, the materials I buy to build a house, the health care I receive (currently at least), the consumer electronics, the automobile I drive, the internet–all the important material things in my life, and the services I value the most, are created by individuals and private businesses. Whether this is right or wrong is beside the point; it’s the way things are right now.

    So, why isn’t this stimulus package better aimed at assisting businesses to do business? I am not talking about lame, faltering businesses such as banking or the automobile industry. The Small Business Administration does get some money in the package, but a minuscule amount compared with, say, the military. Tell me again, how the military is enhancing my quality of life. (Bear in mind that the US military budget is already almost equal to all the military budgets of all other nations COMBINED.)

    The well established economic concept of productivity seems to have been lost here. And since the US has such a massive trade deficit, how about some assistance for export industries, or industries with export potential?

    All I see in this package is thinking-inside-the-box. Government thinking in terms of government, putting more money into various existing branches of government, no matter what the commander-in-chief says about wealth coming from people who make things.

  43. Let’s call it a War on Recession. Then all these conservatives with their newfound desire to be budget hawks will return to their no-bid Halliburton ways.

  44. 13Strong-

    As to the analysis of numbers, I think I looked at it more from the standpoint that about half of the bill would eventually at some level directly stimulate the economy.

    The items you cite, redistributing power, access to resources, community development, education and alternative, low-impact fuel resources, are all reasonably debatable items to be the subject of a cash infusion from Uncle Sam at some point.

    However, in my opinion, it’s dishonest to include these items as riders to an “emergency” bill, particularly a bill that the President stated would have zero earmarks, only to find that more than 50% of it is earmarks and government employee salaries.

  45. no really now folks, NOW IS THE TIME! Stop grovelling on your knees before what is supposed to be YOUR government and flat out TELL them : You are going to legalize pot. Now. Just shut up and do it. We are ORDERING you to do it. There are billions of dollars going into the pockets of criminals that could be building schools and repairing roads. We know you all got your kick-backs and cuts under the old system but that time is OVER.

  46. “The money will be mostly distributed among existing federal agencies.” This means a goodly percentage of said funds will be absorbed into the infrastructure of those agencies as they “process” and “oversee” distribution, dragging it out for months while they soak up as much of the funding as they can. That’s how these agencies work, and everyone in government knows this.

    I can’t speak for the federal government, but I work in the planning department of a large city and can tell you that for us, this statement is 100% backwards from the truth. Development projects sit and wait on shelves and desks because we lack the manpower to process applications. If we had an infusion of cash, we could hire more people to process applications faster, speeding private development.

    we’re delving deep into a Keynesian economic practice that, if not disproven, stands on dubious ground at best

    Yes, this is Keynesian, and that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. In the last election, Americans showed that they do not think the Republicans had a reasonable plan to get us out of the recession. The idea of stimulating the economy through low taxes or tax rebates hasn’t worked. Or at least, it’s perceived that those ideas, as espoused by the Republicans, are what helped get us into this mess. In other words, people are willing to try something else when the old ways are broken.

  47. Why is bridge destruction an affair of DHS?

    And: How do we get our fellow mutants and citizens (in the US) to apply pressure for the two most promising economic stimulants (hehe):

    1) Japanese-style forced sharing of broadband lines. (Or do you not want 100mbps for $20 bucks?)
    2) Drug legalization. Or failing that, legalized production of cannabis in both its psychoactive and “universal industrial ingredient” forms. I am in favor of total, international legalization. Then the cocaine trade will bolster SA nations rather than the Bush family and the rest of the CIA coke smugglers.

  48. Why is bridge destruction an affair of DHS?

    The Coast Guard is under the DHS, and if a bridge is an obstacle to navigation, presumably the Coast Guard gets involved.

    I also remember visiting southeast Virginia that all of the crossings of Chesapeake Bay between the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and the open sea are either tunnels or combined bridge-tunnels. This is so that the naval ships won’t have to worry about any bridges, standing or destroyed by enemy fire, blockading our Navy in its own shipyard.

  49. @60

    Thanks for that. I was just assuming that the DHS is perhaps just a little less corrupt/inept than the Army Corps of Engineers.

  50. aic4ever
    “The facts are we’re delving deep into a Keynesian economic practice that, if not disproven, stands on dubious ground at best indicates that the motives behind this package are far more political in nature than they are economic.”

    Shorter version: I’m not political because my political ideology disproved the stimulus.

    “If those interpretations of the facts make it seem like I’m biased toward one side or the other, it’s because I’m biased toward smaller government overall, not because I’m anti-Obama or pro-conservative.”

    Or: I’m not biased toward the failed policies of smaller government of the last 30 years because I’m in favor of smaller government policies.

    Dude, there’s an earlier post by Bruce Sterling on delusional thinking you might be interested in.

  51. Noen-

    Part A: Whether or not Keynesian theories on economics has nothing to do with my politics. I don’t believe the idea holds water in general. The only time it can be proved to have “worked” was world war two, when an unprecedented amount of people had to go to work to build machines to supply an unprecedented number of machines to an unprecedented on the ground war effort. We will never again see so large a percentage of the population taken out of the workforce to fight on the ground, at the same time that such a large percentage must come into the production sector to supply those people. That WW2 “worked” to prove the Keynesian idea of a multiplier was a complete anomoly. Feel free to have faith in its reimplementation now, that began under Bush and is continuing on a larger scale now.

    Part B:

    Feel free to point me toward any point in time over the past 30 years that our government has attempted to limit itself and/or get smaller, and you might have a point.

    It’s delusional on your part, and many many other peoples’ parts to believe that Reagan or Bush or Clinton or Bush 2 were promoting smaller government. They all grew the government in conjunction with their tax cuts. Had any of them ever cut marginal rates in conjunction with cutting spending, we would have at least a balance, if not a major surplus.

  52. @#19 Travelina: And you realize that you have cited a quote from an opinion piece by Ferris Beuller’s economics teacher that you saw on a blog run by Joe the Plumber’s new employer? Seriously?

  53. AIC4EVER — so your personal distaste for Keynesian economics is apolitical, but implementing Keynesian policies is political, not economic?

    Or maybe your contention that Keynesian policies have been proven wrong hasn’t exactly been proven.

  54. Part A
    Ideology isn’t just a political or religious system, it structures your perception of reality. It determines what one’s notion of proof or reality is. So here you are putting forward the old canard that it was wartime spending turned the Great Depression around. But that is your assumption and it springs from your ideology not from the Real.

    “Feel free to have faith in its reimplementation now, that began under Bush and is continuing on a larger scale now.”

    More GOP talking points. Bush didn’t have a meaningful stimulus plan. It was anemic and laughed at from the start. Nowhere near enough and designed to go directly into savings, hence no stimulus. It was predicted to fail and it did just that.

    “It’s delusional on your part, and many many other peoples’ parts to believe that Reagan or Bush or Clinton or Bush 2 were promoting smaller government.”

    Woo Hoo!! Do you have club where you perform your act? I’d love to see it. You’re telling me Reagan and Bushes one and two did not promote smaller gov? Wow! That’s a great punchline, though the build up could use some work.

    Oh I know they didn’t deliver small government, of course not. Reagan oversaw the greatest expansion of the gov (and debt) in the modern era. His presidency was an economic disaster but you couldn’t say that at the time. Only now 20 years later is it even possible for some to admit it.

    The Glibertarian free market mantra has never been anything but a gloss to justify letting the rich do whatever they want. So they buy newspapers, TV networks, magazines, think tanks, and the punditry class. It’s all one big megaphone that spews one message: “Let us do whatever we want and it ponies and ice cream for everyone!”

    “They all grew the government in conjunction with their tax cuts.”

    Sure, I know that, but you couldn’t say that at the time. I lived through that era and I was constantly told in the media that black was white and up was down and ‘did you get your pony yet?’

    Don’t you get it? It’s a con, all of it. It’s just the bullshit they tell you so they can rob you blind. We live in a boiler room economy where you can run a ponzi scam for fifty billion and if your friends are powerful enough you’ll walk.

    You’re never going to get your small government because the whole point is to transfer wealth from the public to the private. How can a kleptocracy function without a public sector? Your precious theories are a tissue of lies designed only to distract you long enough to fit you for your chains.

  55. It seems like we are dancing around the elephant with this talk of economic ideologies. Are these ideologies anything more than empty posturing?

    The United States, in no small part motivated by Ayn Rand-style reflexive anti-collectivism, collectively allowed a small group of people to accumulate disproportionate wealth and power during and after World War 2. Those people created a hereditary ruling class, which has steadily declined in ability and competence (as predicted by the misogynist von Mises) even as they have consolidated their political and economic power.

    The children of the leaders and visionaries of two generations ago, the ruling class of the USA, the hereditary Board-member class, are vastly incompetent and intellectually slothful. They are incapable of maintaining their absurd wealth without government sponsorship.

    In a theoretical capitalist economy, the leaders of failed enterprises eat at the Salvation Army soup kitchen in their old age.

    In the existing US socialism (created almost entirely by self-proclaimed champions of capitalism, freedom and democracy) the children of the ruling class are awarded bonuses paid for by TARP while working men lose their jobs.

    My late friend Terry Mann used to say, “you will know them by their works, not by their words”.

    Obama deserves a chance, and nay-sayers trotting out the “small government” and “free market” mantras of the Reagan/Bush machine are dipping from a poisoned well. It’s no longer convincing.

  56. @ Charles Platt #58:

    …the consumer electronics, the automobile I drive, the internet–all the important material things in my life, and the services I value the most, are created by individuals and private businesses.

    I love private innovation as much as the next guy, but let’s examine that statement a bit:

    * Unless you have your own generator your electronics are probably plugged in to a public power grid.
    * Your automobile would be useless if there weren’t roads to drive it on.
    * The internet was an outgrowth of technology funded by DARPA, developed by publicly funded universities and built on government-regulated communication networks.

    Also I really like having cops, schools, post offices, libraries and fire departments.

  57. Anyone else notice a decided mismatch between funding “men’s jobs” and “women’s jobs”?

    I dunno. Which jobs are which?

  58. @82

    Dovetails nicely with the Taliban-quotas caused Enron collapse theory.

    Takuan, maybe you should consider providing the names of the articles with your links, I think lots of people are more interested in reading

    UN crime chief says drug money flowed into banks


    Thanks for the awesome links, though. You’re probably just too busy giving us all these cool links to fully document them, but I still think it would help them get clicked on more often.

  59. Takuan, maybe you should consider providing the names of the articles with your links,

    Yeah. It seems weird to see a post that’s just a link. I have no idea what the link is or what the poster thinks of the link. Very mysterious. I almost never click.

  60. think of them as little tins with press-fit lids with “Peanut Brittle” written on the side. My ways are subtle, and dark with purpose. My dread imprimatur is lure and warning enough.

  61. Yeah. It seems weird to see a post that’s just a link. I have no idea what the link is or what the poster thinks of the link. Very mysterious. I almost never click.

    Adam, if I may suggest, you can just click ahead when it is from Tak and it’ll never be a total lost of time, for the least, and a quite good use of it very often.

  62. TAKUAN, I hate to tell you this because I think marijuana and hemp should be legalized as well, but most folks either don’t care or don’t want to legalize marijuana in any way, shape, or form. I believe it’s only about 8 percent (and that’s on the high side, no pun intended) of the population.

    AND Obama is not going to legalize or even decriminalize it, as he is not about to become the “marijuana president”.

    The only hope is that the individual states KEEP PUSHING for decriminalization, medical MJ, etc, until the ground swell across the nation becomes such that the federal gov’t HAS to standardize, utilizing a much more “lenient” set of laws.

    This IS beginning to happen, but not as quickly as a lot of us would like. Take a look at Mendocino county in NorCal; residents there are “allowed” to grow 6 marijuana plants. I say “allowed”, but really it’s not totally legal, but it’s not worth the cop’s and the DA’s time and trouble to go after a few plants because everyone’s growing it(!) so they (usually) only go after the big growers.

    In time this will spread like weeds to more counties in California, then to other states as well, so hang in there, keep the faith, and keep pushing your state gov’t for legalization!

  63. mark the date.Come December 2009,look back and ask yourself if you could have conceived the convulsions that will have wracked your country and the world in the short space of one year. Big changes coming,the timing for dramatic changes as well. Those with any brains on top know. Of course they will use distraction, they have nothing else, BIG distraction. But the fact remains there will be a huge new class without. Without and ANGRY. I suggest pot very seriously as a significant economic and social brake on the inevitable. Think of alcohol as a force during the Depression, and how without prohibition far less harm would have been done. You think you have a criminal gang problem now? Even a compulsory military draft won’t be enough to bleed off the pressure. By late spring,even the slowest will realize just hows badly they have been had. I see a hot summer in the city coming.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if a market to buy and sell “stimulus jobs” hasn’t already sprung up.

  64. Country Joe, where are you?

    Come on all of you big strong men
    Uncle Sam needs your help again
    he’s got himself in a terrible jam
    way down yonder in Afghanistan so
    put down your books and pick up a gun we’re
    gonna have a whole lotta fun

    And it’s one, two, three, what are we fighting for
    don’t ask me I don’t give a damn, next stop is Afghanistan
    And it’s five, six, seven, open up the pearly gates
    ain’t no time to wonder why, whoopee we’re all gonna die

    Come on generals, let’s move fast
    your big chance has come at last
    now you can go out and get those Taliban
    cos the only good mooslim is the one that’s dead and
    you know that peace can only be won when we’ve
    blown ’em all to kingdom come

    Come on wall street don’t be slow
    why man this war is a go-go
    there’s plenty good money to be made by
    supplying the army with the tools of its trade
    let’s hope and pray that if they drop the bomb,
    they drop it on the Taliban
    Come on mothers throughout the land
    pack your boys off to Afghanistan
    come on fathers don’t hesitate
    send your sons off before it’s too late
    and you can be the first ones on your block
    to have your boy come home in a box

  65. Big changes coming,the timing for dramatic changes as well.

    Mark set.

    I don’t think that anyone can anticipate the changes to come in the larger part.

    I like the audacity of your idea of using drugs to allieviate the economic suffering ahead but I certainly hope that, in reality, we won’t be put to sleep in such a manner. There’s a possibility for a fight that won’t be war and I hope that we can get it on the move.

    We’ve had such periods of upheaval before. The Revolution gave birth to the US quickly followed by its continental expansion; the ideas that led to the Revolutions of the era brought about the Human Rights, the industrial revolution and its many social implications. Later, WW I and II made a lot of money for the US and the destruction abroad made room for it to become the super-power.

    With hindsight we can see the trends that literally forced these developments but who in 1917 could have predicted the rapid crumbling of the British Empire or the scale of the stalemate of the machine war in WW I, for examples?

  66. “Reduce gov demand in a recession, yeah. Cut off the Welfare queens, eh?
    Bobby that’s nuts, fuel on the fire.
    I say give welfare – or, if you will, forcibly redistribute income from the obscenely wealthy – to those who need food/fuel/shelter.”

    Ugly Canuck, who said anything about “welfare Queens”? You’re reading prejudices that aren’t there. Just because I want some fiscal conservatism doesn’t mean I want people starving to death. I was talking about “the death of a thousand cuts” that seems to bleed out from every action that the bureaucracies take. BTW the “top 5%” income earners in the US make approximately 31% of the money made in the US, but pay approximately 54% of the taxes. We have plenty of money going into the Federal Government, it’s just mismanaged.

    There’s a multitude of places within State and Federal government that could do with less money and still retain essential social services.

    The problem is that none of the parties that are in the process are actually held responsible for being fiscally responsible, and when anyone tries to implement any responsibility they’re stonewalled by the bureaucracy around them.

    The idea that we “have to spend this money, or we’ll get less funding next year” is prevalent. It’s not their money so they don’t have any reason to spend it wisely. It’s a sad thing, but an attitude that is endemic to bureaucracies.

    If the call for us as a nation is to tighten our belts, do without luxuries, etc., why can’t we hold our civil servants to the same standard?

  67. I notice nobody has commented on this part of the bill:

    National Endowment for the Arts

    grants and administration

    For an additional amount for ‘Grants and Administration’, $50,000,000, to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn

  68. I was reading an article yesterday. The author was complaining about how there’s too much “unnecessary” and “frivolous” spending in the stimulus bill. Things like funding for arts, education and health care. Then he went on to say, why not fix our roads and bridges, giving people much-needed jobs at the same time? What a narrow-minded viewpoint. Republicans think the only way to put people back to work is to put a pick and shovel in their hands, and give them mindless, back-breaking, “good old-fashioned” construction jobs.

    Did you know that over 50 million people are employed in the arts in this country? Funneling money to these things will create jobs. The American people are largely over qualified, under paid professionals. They do not want to, and will not work on bone-head constructions sites. Fund the arts, fund education, fund health care, fund scientific research, and you not only make our country a better place, but you create the kinds of jobs that people are trained for and willing to do.

  69. Seriously, Takuan- I like hearing your take on this stuff, but posting all those links without titles or explanations is only slightly less annoying than typing with the caps lock key on. Please consider changing this habit, as a courtesy to your fellow Boingers.

  70. yeah Tak: On a related note, how did the OSS pay back the Sicilian mob for their help in the invasion of Sicily?
    D’ya think it had anything to do with the way horse flooded the ghettos in the late 40s and the 50s?
    And the Taliban eradicated Afghan poppy cultivation…I also notice that the “war on drugs” seems to be becoming a larger and larger part of the “Afghan mission”…somebody need some quick profits to fill some holes in the balance sheet? Filling holes (in the balance sheet) by filling holes (in people’s arms), I guess.
    Does the CIA facilitate and profit from the ‘war on drugs”, from both sides?
    Indeed a good part of the US military has had it’s mission creep into a “war on drugs” thing. They tried to sub “drug lords” in for “godless commies” in the early 90s, right? Remember Noriega? How does the CIA (a military outfit) get to routinely comment on the drug policies of foreign nations? Why?
    I hope that the benefits of the next computer/automation revolution goes to more than the top 1% of the top 5% of the world’s population. Don’t you?

  71. EH, not much to add here.
    Same as it’s been since 1972. Legalize all recreational drug use, preserving rules against public use, a la booze.
    Then and only then, massively increase welfare payments to the sick the unemployed the poor the crazy.
    As to the banks, put the current shareholders out of their misery. New publicly-owned regional banks clear of all the bs debt built up by the old banks.
    In 5-10 years, sell them to whoever can then afford to buy shares.
    But as it has ever been the war on drugs is a war against the American public. A political war, not a medical one, not a war for justice. Its effects have been disastrous, and will continue to be so.
    End prohibition; stop criminalizing your own people, your own children.
    PS Legalizing drugs would also get rid of the insufferable posing of drug users, as ‘rebels’ or as being in some way being freer or more interesting than their non-drug-using fellow citizens: they are just fools, unimportant fools, who are aggrandized in their own estimation due to the real danger of social sanction for their harmless pointless and useless pastime.
    The prohibition of drug use is a reverse-psychology marketing tool by people both in the Mob and in Government who hold people in contempt and wish to profit greatly by their ruin. Remember, the cigarette companies are ardently FOR stricter prohibition of tobacco for those under sixteen…for the same reason.
    Legalize, top to bottom. Prohibition has NO redeeming qualities.
    But like the booze, enforce the Laws to keep it a private pastime.

  72. TAKUAN said:

    no really now folks, NOW IS THE TIME! Stop grovelling on your knees before what is supposed to be YOUR government and flat out TELL them : You are going to legalize pot.

    I can’t begint to tell you how far down on my personal list of priorities legalizing marijuana is. Were I to storm the government and make demands, it would be for thing like, i don’t know, making healthcare affordable (then, I guess nationalizing it if we have to, but please, manage costs before you take over paying the bill), provide a better educational system (where say the lowest ranked 25 states are brought up to at least the level of the currently ranked 25th state), etc.

    Saving money by not incarcerating pot heads is a goal, but not the first thing I would petition for…

  73. but high enough on your priority list to post against it?

    (Must develop Africa and South America as new markets. The handwriting is on the wall for the West, legalization/harm reduction will destroy the profit motive.)

  74. all connected:

    “LONDON — Britain’s security minister, Lord West, just dropped a bombshell by declaring his nation’s military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan had fuelled global radicalism against Britain and the U.S.

    West described as “bollocks” former PM Tony Blair’s claims the so-called “war on terror” had nothing to do with growing Islamic radicalism. This comes soon after Britain’s foreign secretary, David Miliband, called the term “war on terror,” deceptive and damaging.

    In an extraordinary move, cabinet minutes of Tony Blair’s decision to invade Iraq may be made public shortly, raising the possibility of serious criminal charges — even war crimes — against senior British officials “

  75. all connected:

    “To understand why the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is not going well for the United States and its NATO allies, take a look at two statistics.

    One is Afghanistan’s ranking on an international index measuring corruption: 176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). The other is Afghanistan’s position as the world’s Number 1 producer of illicit opium, the raw material for heroin.

    The two statistics are inextricably linked and, a year ago, prompted Richard Holbrooke, the man President Barack Obama has just picked as special envoy for Afghanistan, to write: “Breaking the narco-state in Afghanistan is essential or all else will fail.”

    Holbrooke, who was not in government service at the time, took particular issue with the counter-narcotics strategy the Bush administration pursued in Afghanistan.

    “The … program, which costs around $1 billion a year, may be the single most ineffective policy in the history of American foreign policy,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post. “It’s not just a waste of money. It actually strengthens the Taliban and al Qaeda, as well as criminal elements within Afghanistan.”

    Exactly what the Obama administration intends to do about that, and how it might break the narco-state, has yet to be articulated. Sending more troops to fight a growing insurgency does not necessarily translate into progress towards dismantling the “narco-state,” eliminating corruption or cutting down on the opium production whose proceeds help finance the Taliban.”


    a lousy 819 billon to bail out a trillion plus hole, the biggest lender nation and biggest energy (and soon to be water) partner watching like hawks, a joke of an unwinnable war, dope, those who LIKE making money from dope, …

    right about now the smartest single thing Obama could do is flat out announce legalization of pot and start taxing the shit out it. Which will segue quickly into killing the profit motives in heroin and coke too. American consumption drives the world drug trade. Figure it out.

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